Monday, December 31, 2012
224. DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
The title of Quentin Tarantino's latest film is only the first in a series of epic teases and perversely rewarding disappointments of expectation. It is not his twist on the Italian Western, though it makes use of music written for some of them (Luis Bacalov, Riz Ortolani and of course, Ennio Morricone); it's more specifically an American Southern, his twist on American Antebellum melodrama from Griffith's BIRTH OF A NATION to Richard Fleischer's MANDINGO, with some nods to Fred Williamson's rise from slave to outlaw to folk hero in the Nigger Charley films. With Tarantino doing it, one is prepared for him to venture beyond what has been done before in this area, but DJANGO UNCHAINED is not as offensively racist, not as bluntly violent nor as frankly erotic as MANDINGO, though it is sometimes as cartoonish and hyperbolic as Tex Avery's "Uncle Tom's Cabaña." It's not even about the shackled slave Django (Jamie Foxx) being unchained, which happens in the very scene that introduces him; if anything, it's a sweet, if blood-soaked rumination on how love is like a ball and chain. Everything that happens here, happens so a man can dance his horse in front of the girl he calls his "little trouble-maker."
It's also a story about the slaving days in which the black hero's best friend is white, and the white villain's best friend is black. It gives us Klansmen who don't want to wear their hoods. It presents us, early on, with parallels to Fritz Lang's DIE NIEBELUNGEN as Dr. Kurt Shultz (Christoph Waltz), a charmingly garrulous travelling dentist-turned-bounty-hunter of German descent, informs Django (whom he's bought and freed) that the name of the enslaved wife he longs to recover, Broomhilda, is a corruption of Brunhilda, the heroine of a great German legend. Django comes closer and wants the story told to him. Shultz relates it in reasonable detail, but the story that follows doesn't offer any parallels. If you're like me, and overthinking the coincidence already, you might tell yourself that Wagner told the story in his famous "Ring Cycle" and that Sergio Leone is remembered for depicting his showdowns in circular arenas, but no, sorry, it doesn't go there. She's just named Broomhilda -- Broomhilda Von Shaft, no less, perhaps the great-great-grandmother of Gordon Parks' John Shaft.
The wily Shultz educates Django in the business of bounty hunting, gregariously taking him on as a partner in a business notorious for its murderously greedy loners, which is hilarious if you think about it. They raise a fortune together over a long Corbuccian winter in the mountains, and then he determines the whereabouts of Broomhilda and figures out that she can probably be bought from her master, Calvin Candie (Leonardo di Caprio), for a stipend if they divert their real interest in her by pursuing the purchase of one of his Mandingo fighters for a more irresistible sum, like $12,000. Why not simply offer Candie the twelve grand for Broomhilda, especially since that amount looks like only half the bills Shultz is carrying in his wallet when it's finally paid out? Well, then the movie would have been much shorter, and Tarantino is all about taking it slow, pausing to smell the flowers, taking the scenic route. As you'll see when Django and Broomhilda are finally united, the whole film amounts to a elaborate, strutting dance of seduction. It may take the long way around a fairly small point on the compass, but it could be the fastest three hours you will ever spend in a movie theater.
Viewed in a theater.
at 3:16 AM